In this recurring Q&A series, Sasaki staff share what inspires them, what they are working on, and a bit about life outside the office. Today, say hello to Meredith McCarthy, architectural designer in Sasaki's Campus Studio!
Q: Why do you do what you do?
A: I've always had a curious personality; I usually spend half my day asking questions. Sometimes they're relevant, but mostly they're completely unrelated and tend to lead down a long road of digression. Regardless, I'm relentless in my inquiries and am lucky to have grown up being surrounded by patient people who are kind enough to answer me.
Also, I LOVE Legos.
That being said, it was that intense passion for those little plastic building blocks that prompted me to apply to architecture school but it's the continual challenges that design provides that piqued my interest while in school and keeps me going today. I've never had a boring work day, and for someone who is constantly curious, that's saying something. And I get to spend my days drawing. I can't imagine a better way to make a living.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Currently I'm spending all my time on the Dudley Square Municipal Office Facility in Roxbury. We just submitted our 100% construction documents. Now it's time to get out of the office and see those drawings come to life. This is my first construction project so everything is still new and exciting. And there's a nine-story concrete shear tower on site, which is quite possibly the coolest thing. Ever.
Meredith atop the tower crane at Dudley Square
Q: In which research topics or concepts are you most interested?
A: There are two ideas that really capture my attention surrounding architecture and design.
The first is the idea of post-occupancy. Put simply, we make a product. Our product happens to be buildings, landscapes, and planning interventions, but nonetheless, the end user is generally not us. I think, as architects and designers, our jobs aren't done at the ribbon cutting ceremony. I think the true work is just beginning. I believe we have a responsibility to continue to study our designs long after completion and we owe it to our future clients and users to learn from our past projects. It's important to know our successes but it's more imperative to know what didn't pan out like we were expecting, and to know how to better that in the next design. And it's filled with question-asking, which is kind of my forte.
The second idea is that of performance-based design. Our planet is warming at a drastic rate. It's actually quite frightening to see images of the shrinking polar ice caps. We need to start taking a bolder approach to sustainable design. Our buildings' emissions and energy use need to be radically decreased. There are a lot of advancements in technology recently to help push this idea forward in terms of building systems but I believe we need to look back at history and revisit the ideas of vernacular architecture. Every building should relate to its site in a meaningful and environmentally responsible way. Building envelopes should not only be beautiful, but highly tuned instruments that respond and adapt to the changing climatic conditions. Buildings can no longer be about a single occupancy but rather flexible, multi-use spaces. I think we're on the cusp of incredible design opportunities and we just need to be brave and bold in our attempt to capitalize on these ideas.
Q: Hideo Sasaki once said, "Contribution is the only value." What do you contribute?
A: All design—landscape, urban, building, product—affects everyone in their everyday lives, but most people don't realize it. I spent an entire year of grad school studying the concept of communicative architecture and how buildings can send a message or change a view or help form an opinion. I find that to be one of the most intriguing aspects of design. We're finally starting to see the built environment take a lead role in society. People, and not just designers, are planning trips to see built things. Dilapidated cities are reinventing themselves around a single, new piece of modern and contemporary architecture. Major historic events are being memorialized in concrete structures. It's absolutely incredible to think that we have the opportunity to help transform the way people view, use, and experience space. So to say that I've had a hand in helping someone enjoy the space they're in is easily the most rewarding part of my job. If I get to create even just one improvement to someone's perception of a place, I'd call that a major contribution.
Q: Where is your favorite place in the world?
A: I feel like this is a loaded question. I've travelled a lot in my short 26 years and have seen way more than is fair for someone my age. I've slept in a tent in the middle of the Sahara Desert, jumped out of a plane 15,000 feet over the Swiss Alps, and kayaked in a glacier lake in Alaska. All of these were incredible, life-changing experiences on their own. But there is one place that stands out above all others: San Miniato, Florence, Italy. It's a little church, just outside the city, up in the hills. You have to climb a seemingly endless array of stairs to get up there but the view will stop your heart. You can see all of Florence in one astonishing panoramic view. The Duomo sits proudly in a sea of terra cotta roofs and on a clear day the landscape extends for miles. I've never felt smaller or more humbled in my life. It was the moment I realized how far away I was from home and how big the world actually is. I think everyone should have a place like that. It keeps you grounded.
Q: Whom do you admire?
A: I admire the optimist. We are still living in hard times and it's very easy to be negative. It takes more heart and courage than anything to always see the brighter side of things, and I wish there was more of that in the world.
Then there is Raphael Moneo and his conglomerate of Spanish counterparts. There's just something so beautiful about the style, simplicity, and craft of Spanish architecture that inspires me to do better design.
Q: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
A: There are three weeks in July that are my favorite three weeks of the entire year (this includes the monster December holiday season). Not because it's hot and it's beach weather. Not because it's summer and things are a bit more relaxed. No. It's because of a little thing called the Tour de France. I am CRAZY about cycling. I love to ride my bike. I love to watch other people ride their bikes. I love to talk about riding bikes. I just really love bikes. There's no better sense of accomplishment than battling up a steep hill, going over the top, and racing down the other side, powered only by the speed of your pedaling legs. I've never felt freer and the rush is exhilarating.
Q: What's on your iPod?
A: My musical selection tends to vary drastically depending on what mood I'm in (and how much drawing needs to get done). But most of the music streaming through my headphones comes from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Black Keys, Jay-Z, and the Civil Wars. I also have an unhealthy obsession with Beyoncé—it's a problem, I'm working through it, but she is amazing.